Cary, N.C., offers quaint charm, quiet sophistication

May 7, 2018

Stately church steeples and curbside charm make this North Carolina town a picturesque destination.

Looking for a quiet coupleís getaway that lets you skip the hustle and bustle? Hoping that same getaway comes with a vintage vibe and classic American experiences? An unexpected and remarkably affordable destination choice exists just outside of Raleigh, N.C. With a downtown area featuring a retro theater, subtly shaded street murals and picturesque churches, the town of Cary has a fair amount to offer the traveler searching for a more leisurely escape.

Donít be surprised if people start pulling you aside to provide recommendations once they find out youíre only there for a short visit. From the gentleman on the street who asked if I had seen their new outdoor concert amphitheater to the hotel desk staff who double checked to make sure I didnít leave town without trying the nearby homemade ice cream shop, this place is plum full of locals who are clearly proud as punch of their precious little town. Following are my top recommendations on how to best enjoy it.

Accommodations: If youíre looking for high-value, affordable luxury within easy walking distance of the townís eateries, shops and public amenities, the Mayton Inn is likely your best bet. Room bookings start at roughly $200 and come with a custom-cooked breakfast, free valet parking with plugin stations for your Tesla, and an on-demand white noise system for those who have trouble sleeping away from home. The real evidence of the venueís value however, lies in how extensively it is used by area residents as a social gathering spot. Whether they are coming for weekend brunch, or flocking there for the nightly drink specials, youíll definitely get to share your travel experience with people from the actual community.

Of note is how the owners skipped the expected plantation decor and opted instead for a feeling of posh, old-school glam. Itís a theme that continues throughout the hotel, particularly in the bar where you can enjoy a Negroni, French 75 or other classic cocktail over strains of Sinatra while you hang with the locals. The Mayton also has an on site spa where pampering takes place at a financially accessible price point. If youíre interested in a bit of relaxation before a full day of exploring, foot treatments and facials start as low as $20. A number of massage options are available as well.

Activities: Once youíve finished unwinding, take advantage of your roomís short walking distance to the cute-as-pie community park which offers free monthly summer concerts along with complimentary ping pong, table soccer and other game equipment for at-will, outside enjoyment. They also have tables and chairs if you want to bring your own chess board. Cary has a developing craft beer scene as well, making an afternoon of brewery hopping worthy of your tourist time. In addition to Jordan Lake, be sure to check out the fun industrial feel at Bond Brothers while you enjoy a draft pour, and experience the European pub atmosphere at Fortnight Brewing over a glass of suds on a comfy stuffed sofa.

Perhaps one of the most unique travel experiences you can have in Cary is to take a cooking class with a master French baker. Recognized by the James Beard Foundation with creations appearing in a number of national television shows and magazine publications, renowned instructor Lionel Vatinet offers three-hour courses on location at La Farm Bakery, a popular local eatery he founded. At $85 to book a slot, itís an hourly rate thatís tough to beat. Depending on the class you book, youíll receive instruction on topics such as tart baking, croissant creation, the proper way to flip a crepe when cooking and more. I even learned the secret to correcting the uneven pastry rolling technique that has plagued me my entire life. Apparently, itís all in the shoulders.

As a former elementary school educator however, the main thing I noticed about Vatinetís instruction was how rare it is for someone of his caliber and skill set to effectively teach adults and still have the patience and forethought to treat the middle school students in the group with a level of attention and respect that will keep them interested in the career field for years to come. Watching the younger participants hang on his every word like a rock star? Priceless.

Looking for something else to do? With the townís proximity to Raleigh, it would be a shame not to pop over and check out a few of the museums for which the stateís capital city has earned such a great deal of acclaim. Two of note are the Gregg Museum of Art and Design at North Carolina State University which features a number of Native American treasures, and the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences which houses a three-level dome theater, astronomy research lab, butterfly habitat and much more. Both museums are free to the public.

Appetites: If your museum hopping tour in Raleigh runs late as ours did, be sure to make time for dinner in the city at Mandolin. With local farms providing much of what youíll be eating, including high-end preserves with a homespun touch, this is sophisticated Southern dining on steroids. Seafood fans will likely gravitate to the flounder with grilled romaine and clam spuds, but my moneyís on the gourmet fried chicken and waffles. Sized to bust you out of your stretchy pants and served with truffle honey and braised greens, this dish will definitely leave you feeling satisfied.

Good eats abound in Cary proper as well. Academy Street Bistro is a fun lunch option with their Tuesday $5 martini specials, decadent duck confit bruschetta and grilled brie with raspberry-pistachio honey, as well a number of sandwich items. When youíre finished, stroll around the corner for a dish of fresh local ice cream, or head back to the hotel for a cozy read in the downstairs library. Personally, I found this to be a great spot to spend some time with my art supplies and work on a little poetry after a few hours of exploring the town.

For dinner, Maximillians Grill and Wine Bar offers a mod menu with hearty ingredients. Their starter selection includes a seriously sexy pretzel bread pudding thatís packed with savory Mediterranean vegetables, and a canoe-cut marrow appetizer thatís delish with a bold red wine. Thai fusion fans will enjoy their signature dish made with a spicy coconut sauce and the catch of the day. When it comes time for dessert, I vote for heading back to the hotel bar for a bowl of berry cobbler and a nightcap.

Monday night is an especially fortuitous time to do this, as it coincides with their weekly drink special of high-end and hard-to-find bourbon pours offered at cost. We were able to order a brand that typically retails at $15 a glass for less than the cost of a soda. Score! If you prefer to keep it light rather than go out for a heavier meal, they also have a fun bar menu with a number of tasty items priced at $10 or less. Standouts include the fried Brussels sprouts, oysters on the half shell and their extensive charcuterie platter.

With an artisanal French bakery, access to a number of sophisticated eateries and an emerging craft beer scene, Caryís list of destination perks is impressive. If you are looking for a fun weekend away with your boo, or just happen to be visiting the areaís research triangle on business, this small southern town might be just the travel ticket.




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